KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Paralympic Winter Games rookie Oksana Masters (Louisville, Ky.) won the first medal in Sochi for the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Team after finishing second in today’s women’s 12-kilometer cross-country skiing race. Masters’ silver medal is the first U.S. women’s Paralympic medal in cross-country in 20 years. Visually impaired skier Michelle Drolet was the last American woman to medal in cross-country, claiming bronze in the women’s 5km free technique at the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympic Winter Games.
Masters came out the gates fast today and was at the top of the leaderboard throughout the duration of the event, eventually finishing with a time of 39:16.0 just behind Ukrainian Lyudmyla Pavlenko who claimed gold at 38:54.3. Russia’s Svetlana Konovalova was third with a time of 39:49.8.
Masters is an accomplished rower who won a bronze medal in rowing at the 2012 Paralympic Games, but is still relatively new to the sport of Nordic skiing. Her silver medal performance today came just one day after making her Paralympic Winter Games debut and less than one year after taking up the sport.
“It’s pretty amazing I am in disbelief. I have been rowing for 10 years and only skiing for less than a year,” noted Masters. “I really have to thank my training from rowing because it prepared me well for skiing; I am so happy right now.”
10-time Paralympic medalist in track & field Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.) who, like Masters, has also transitioned into winter sports at these Games made her debut today in the 12km cross-country event. McFadden finished fifth in a strong field with a time of 40:38.2, her highest finish ever in the 12km race.
“This race is absolutely the hardest for me because distance races take a lot of technique and a lot of strength so I am really proud of myself,” said McFadden. “In Germany at the World Cup I was in ninth so to go from ninth to fifth in the last couple of weeks makes me extremely happy.”
McFadden, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and was adopted by American Deborah McFadden at age six, was cheered on by a large group of family and friends in the stands. The group included her birth mother as well as several other family members from both Russia and the U.S.
“I was really nervous after having only skied for a year so I really had to ski with my heart today. Having my family in the stands was absolutely wonderful and helped motivate me,” admitted McFadden.
Also competing for the U.S. in the 12km race were Monica Bascio (Evergreen, Colo.) who finished in seventh and Beth Requist (Winter Park, Colo.) who finished in 16th.
Earlier in the day the U.S. had a strong showing in the men’s 15km cross-country race, recording two top-10 finishes.
Army veteran Andy Soule (San Antonio, Texas) continued to impress in these Games, finishing fifth in the race, a day after finishing fourth in the 7.5km biathlon. Soule finished today’s race in a time of 42:53.8.
Soule’s strong performances on the first two days of competition have Team Leader John Farra excited for the rest of his events.
“Andy really knows himself, he knows his training and he really knows what it takes to get to a peak performance state and he’s just nailed it. Everything is really coming together for him…all the sudden everything is clicking, just the way he planned it,” said Farra.
Joining him in the top-10 was Air Force veteran Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash). Halsted finished in ninth with a time of 44:57.9.
Also in action in the 15km cross-country race were Aaron Pike (Park Rapids, Minn.), Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen (Topeka, Kan.), Augusto Perez (East Syracuse, N.Y.) and retired Army Staff Sergeant Bryan Price (Leeton, Mo.).
Paralympic Nordic skiing competition resumes Monday at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center with the 15km and 20km, classic cross-country skiing events.